Want to know if your publication is web-first? I have a simple test for your newsroom.
In your daily news meetings, listen for how many times an assignment editor or reporter says, “….we’ll have that for tomorrow.” If this is in reference to anything but an enterprise story from the budget, that’s a bad sign. If it is in regard to any event happening that same day, it’s a very bad sign.
I’ve been on the online side of newspapers for my entire professional career and I’ve seen a lot of culture shifts, but the online deadline of now seems to be the biggest gap to cross. It seems that many reporters and editors are no longer driven by competition to be first with the news. Many don’t think there even IS competition.
With so many newspapers closing up shop in the last five years, many metro newspapers (like the Enquirer) are the only dailies left standing in their cities. In smaller areas, newspapers have enjoyed lifetimes of market domination. With the old school competition gone, some news people have simply taken to early in-office retirement.
Where reporters once raced to get exclusive stories into the next edition before the competing afternoon paper could jump aboard, now they don’t see a good reason to rush when the print deadline is 5 p.m. They ask, “Who are we trying to scoop, anyway?”
As online editor I can only say, “Everybody.”
Just because there’s no other printed daily newspaper in town doesn’t mean there isn’t competition. The Cincinnati Post may be dead and gone, but it doesn’t mean we’re the knight left standing. My paper still has to contend with several TV station websites, a “weekly” business journal reporting daily news online and a robust blogosphere that can (and often do) beat us to the punch.
Putting aside the obvious time implications of true breaking news, let’s look at the day-to-day budget – the press conferences, scheduled events and government meetings. How long after such an event has taken place does it take for your publication to have some sort of news online?
If it is more than an hour before this gets online, you’ve already lost to the competition. If it is leisurely filed at 5 p.m. for the next day’s paper, well, you should probably just pack up your website and head home.
The fact is, it isn’t even just about being first, it is about proving your value in a 24-hour news marketplace.
Readers expect information as soon as something happens. Any gap in time between an event happening and when they read about it from the “paper of record” is time spent looking elsewhere, on Google, Twitter, blogs, TV sites, etc. to find out what’s going on. They aren’t expecting a Pulitizer winner in 20 minutes, just the basics.
How relevant is that write-up of a late night school board meeting in the day-after-tomorrow’s paper? If we as an industry still exist for the purpose of informing the public, we should re-evaluate our relevance if we can’t even get a basic overview of a government meeting to them within a half hour of its conclusion. For breaking news, the deadline of NOW is even more important.
We as journalists want readers to choose us and, preferably, pay for us – but we need to give them a reason to want it in the first place.
An anonymous comment ban could kill the public forum
On March 30, 2010
In Industry News & Notes, Rants
In light of the Cleveland Plain Dealer‘s recent outing of an anonymous commenter on their site, columnist Connie Schultz comes out against anonymous comments on news sites altogether.
I’m not at all surprised she’d take this stance – most reporters seem to feel this way because (I theorize, anyway), they have to put their names on everything they write and wish everyone who attacked their work had to do the same. It’s understandable, but in a lot of ways also very hypocritical.
Journalists want whistle-blowers to rat out government, friends and bosses and live for meaty quotes sharing unpopular or even dangerous points of view. We’ll also usually be happy to let you express those opinions anonymously — just so long as we get to put our bylines on them. We want to serve as a community hub and “voice of the people”, but only want to allow certain opinions to be heard.
The commenters on the story note readers appreciate knowing who is saying what and many acknowledge that it probably would improve the tenor of comments – but they also know it will cut back on dialogue at large (and not always the bad kind). Here’s a comment from a user named RVA123:
Several other commenters note they’d be less likely to share opinions under their real names because they don’t want their bosses and neighbors to know their political leanings, what they watch on TV, where they live or what they REALLY think of their jobs. It isn’t that they have something to hide or have such outrageous opinions they’d never want their names attached – they just want the modicum of privacy they feel the Internet has provided in the last decade or so.
So is less conversation really what we want? Is it better if we have fewer opinions so long as they’re all bylined and well thought-out? From the reactions I hear in my own newsroom every day, I’d say it’s an overwhelming opinion that yes, that’s exactly what we want.
I don’t like being in the position of defending the sort of toxic, anonymous comments that currently permeate news sites, but I believe we as an industry are clinging to an outdated model of what it means to allow the community to have its say. We think that by printing a handful of letters to the editor we are responsibly letting readers have a say because they put their names on those letters. Never mind that those letters usually don’t represent an entire generation of readers – one that tends to do most opinion-sharing online using social media – and are overwhelmingly submitted by white writers.
Aside from any demographic arguments that could be made (and I’d love more and better data if anyone has it), I know how I feel about what I read. My local letters to the editor regularly seem to me to be written by people who aren’t my age and don’t have much in common with my way of life, so I don’t consult them to find out real community reaction on the issues I care about and neither do most of my contemporaries. I turn to blogs, Twitter, Facebook and, yes, the comments on the stories themselves, to see what people have to say. There are a lot more of them – and they’re often far more familiar to me.
If news sites were to eliminate anonymous comments, we should consider what kind of reader would be left out in the cold. Not every anonymous commenter is a racist stalker with an axe to grind – so maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water.